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“Sermons in Stained Glass: Baptismal Shell”
Ephesians 5:26-27


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Third Sunday after Pentecost–Father’s Day—June 17, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our summer sermon series this year is on the stained-glass windows of our church.  So far we have looked at the two largest windows, representing God the Father and God the Son.  In the last sermon of this series we will consider the preliminary design for the third large window which be installed someday and represent God the Holy Spirit.

Architecturally, the two smaller windows at the front of our sanctuary are called “clerestory” windows, the name given a high window above eye level, especially in a church.  People often comment that the design of our sanctuary is an attractive blend of modern and traditional, and our clerestory windows actually hark back to great cathedrals of Europe, which were built with rows of clerestory windows that flood them with beautiful light. Although the clerestory windows in those old churches are often filled with elaborate stained-glass, the sad part is they’re usually so high up that no one can actually see the design.

The clerestory windows at the front of our sanctuary prominently display the two Sacraments of the Christian Church, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.  The Holy Spirit window which will be installed someday will include a panel representing the Holy Bible, the Word of God.  In Christian theology we call the Word and Sacraments the “means of grace,” the earthly instruments through which God works faith.  The Augsburg Confession of the Lutheran Church puts it this way: “So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted.  Through this means of the Word and Sacraments the Holy Spirit is given, who works faith . . . in those who hear the Gospel.”  That is why we designed our church to prominently display these symbols of the Sacraments, because along with the Word they are the earthly instruments appointed by God through which he brings us to faith.

If you look at one of those great cathedrals from the air their floor plan is cruciform, in the shape of a cross.  When we built our sanctuary there wasn’t room for a cruciform design, so our architect chose another classic shape from Christian symbolism.  You may have never realized that if you look at our sanctuary from the air it is in the exact shape of a baptismal shell.  You can see this very clearly if you look up the church’s address in Google Earth.

The flat top of the baptismal shell is the wall of doors at the entrance of the sanctuary.  The curved bottom of the baptismal shell is this curved wall.  If you could stand our sanctuary on end it would look just like the baptismal shell in our stained-glass window.  That shape of our sanctuary symbolizes it is the community of the baptized who gather together in this building for worship.

The Greek word “baptize” means to wash with water.  So, the shell in the stained-glass window represents the water used in Holy Baptism.  That’s also why the background of this window is blue.  Jesus commanded us to, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  That’s what the three drops beneath the shell symbolize, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Triune God in whose name we are baptized.  That’s also why there are three windows in our sanctuary representing Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  These three windows are positioned in our floor plan like the three drops of water at the bottom of the baptismal shell representing Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Today we are celebrating Father’s Day, and the prophet Malachi asks, “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?”  All humans are children of God by virtue of the fact that he created us.  But, because of our sin, we are all by nature spiritually separated, estranged from our heavenly Father.  For, like disobedient children, we have ALL sinfully rebelled against our heavenly Father and forfeited our birthright, our status as children of God.  Like the sinful son in the parable of the prodigal we must all confess, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

The Good News is, God is your heavenly Father not only because he is your creator, but also because his own Son, Jesus Christ, himself paid for your sinful rebellion, earning for you the privilege of being God’s child once again, earning for you re-admission into the family of God.  Like the father in the parable, who put the robe of sonship back on his son, your heavenly Father clothes you in the robe of Christ’s righteousness and gives you back your birthright.  As a free gift, he bestows on you the privilege once again of being his beloved child. 

Paul says in Ephesians, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.”  On account of Jesus’ sacrificial life, death and resurrection, in Holy Baptism your sins are all washed away and you are welcomed back into the family of God.  Just like in the parable, when the father says to his servants, “Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”  That’s why God invites you to celebrate the feast here each week, because you were dead and are alive again, you were lost and are found.

At the end of the classic movie “Yours, Mine and Ours”  there’s a joyous adoption scene when they all become one family.  That’s what your Baptism really was, a spiritual adoption proceeding, through which your heavenly Father reclaimed you as his own child. 

In the parable of the prodigal the father puts a ring on his son’s finger, a symbol that he has been received back into the family and is his true son once again.  In the same way, in Holy Baptism God places his Spirit within you, signifying that you are his true son once again.  As Paul says in Galatians: “You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

Amen.

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